Small children mean big business for advertisers
With 75 per cent of families’ household budgets being spent on children, according to UK research, it’s no wonder advertisers consider children big business, writes SHEILA WAYMAN
THE EXEMPTION of cheese has been the biggest talking point about new restrictions on the advertising of foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar to children, which were announced last week.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) had caused consternation within the dairy industry back in March when it produced a draft of proposed changes to the Children’s Commercial Communications Code that targeted cheese, alongside other food classed as less healthy, such as potato crisps, confectionery and “most breakfast cereals”.
It is now saying cheese adverts will be allowed during children’s TV programmes but must include an on-screen message indicating the recommended maximum daily consumption limit. However, the advertising of cheese-based products, such as pizza, is likely to be included in the ban – although this won’t be clear until publication in the new year of the nutrient profiling model that will determine exactly which food and drink belong in the high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) category, according to a BAI spokeswoman.
The new code, due to come into force next July, will also forbid the use of cartoon characters, such as Peppa Pig, and celebrities or sports stars to promote HFSS food and drink in advertising that is broadcast outside children’s programme times but directed at children.
Revision of these guidelines for Irish broadcasters is seen by some as an important step in combating the alarming rise in childhood obesity. But others would argue that such moves against marketing to children have shades of King Canute’s futile attempts to hold back the tide.
For a start, two-thirds of Irish TV viewing is on non-Irish channels and so is not subject to the BAI code, nor does it apply to the online world.
TV advertising represents only a part of the marketing children are bombarded with.
The revised code will have “minuscule effect” in the opinion of Sheena Horgan, Irish author of a new e-book called Candy-coated Marketing, which aims to “lift the lid of the Pandora’s Box of accepted marketing norms regarding children”.
A marketing consultant and concerned mother of four girls, ranging from six to 14, she sees the issues from both perspectives.
While parents will agree that children are subjected to far too much marketing and quote certain ads, it is not just the TV ads we need to be concerned about because marketing is “omnipresent”, she says.
It comes at them online, through magazines and newspapers, supermarkets, outdoor advertising, product placement in TV and films, brand tie-ins, brand ambassadors and even through schools.
The amount of money and effort that goes into reviews, such as that of the BAI children’s code, is “colossal” she says. “And for what? I would love to say it would work but I can’t see it.”
In the US, Disney announced last June that, by 2015, food and drink which does not meet its new nutritional guidelines will be banned from advertising aimed at children on Disney-owned television channels, radio stations and websites.
Some of its own endorsements, such as Toy Story characters with McDonald’s Happy Meals, had already been stopped.
Disney said that although it would lose some advertising revenue, the initiative was good for its image as a reliable, family-orientated company.
This is a first by a media owner, says Horgan, but she notes that US advertising and marketing magazines said it was just Disney playing PR and it would not make any difference.
Candy-coated Marketing not only aims to tell parents what is going on, “often under the radar”, but also to give marketing people a “bit of a kick” to look at what they’re doing and to encourage business and brand owners to review how they are dealing with this sector of the market.
Big business is after the hearts and minds of our children. While parents are now bracing themselves for an avalanche of Christmas-themed TV advertising aimed at their children (the BAI code permits it only from November 1st), commandeering the Santa lists is only one target of marketers.
Brands are trying to enlist children as life-long followers, and businesses are levering children’s influences in all sorts of household purchases, from the family car and phones to computers and holidays. So are children fair game?
Horgan does not think so but, she says, “I can understand why they target that market. Children are consumers but they’re also children, so they are vulnerable consumers.”